by Jesse Jost
Recently a young father in our community was suddenly taken from this life when his sprayer made contact with an over head power line. He left behind a beautiful wife and two small boys and a whole community searching for answers. How could God let this happen? How dare he break up a young couple like that? Those are tough questions. Losing your life partner ranks near the top of the list of the most painful things that can happen to a human. When God allows a spouse to die, emotions are shattered and God’s goodness is called into question. But this tragedy raised a different troubling issue for me. This same community that is in shock that God would allow a death in a marriage has seen the death of many other marriages. These other marriages were not involuntarily broken apart, rather the death was willingly chosen. No, it wasn’t murder that broke the sacred bonds of matrimony, it was divorce.
While cancer, car crashes, and earth quakes, bring heart wrenching death and tear families part, there are other forces, more subtle and pervasive, but every bit as destructive that are causing the death of millions of relationships. Among them are anger, harsh words, unforgiveness, and a critical spirit. And while we have very little control over disease and natural disasters, we can choose to protect our relationships from the self-inflicted mortality these poisons bring.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” an ancient sage wisely noted. Words have the power hurt and sever. Thoughtless and cruel comments may seem like mere sound waves, but don’t be fooled these waves can cause destruction that tidal waves can only dream of. Words cannot be retracted and the infection caused by verbal shrapnel can be deadly. “Harsh words stir up anger.” Undealt with anger can lead to hate. The Apostle declares that “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” Bitterness and unforgiveness can cut off actual involvement in a relationship in the same way a death does. I’ve seen resentment build in a person so much that object of their anger might as well be dead. There is no actual relationship left.
It’s a sad irony but the very people who worry and fret about their love ones being taken from them by death may simultaneously be slowly killing the relationship. Parents have trouble sleeping at night for fear that something will happen to their child. Yet that same parent will thoughtlessly inject another fatal wound into his relationship with that child by criticism or anger. For me, losing Heidi would be the worst thing that could happen to me. I can’t imagine how painful life would be without her beautiful smiling face in it. Yet, when I am hurt and can do cruel things in return. I give her the silent treatment and become cold to her. Of course I don’t want to kill her but I do want to make her pay.
When there is a rift in a relationship from a wrong action, such as a cutting comment, or physical abuse, there is a debt to be paid. We naturally want to live by the “tit for tat” rule. When we are hurt we want to make sure that person pays the price for their thoughtless action and try to repay them in hurtful ways such as withdrawing emotionally or sarcastic cutting words. There are consequences to wrong actions and we want to make sure that person gets what’s coming to him. The problem with revenge is that it only injects more death into the relationship. It never brings healing.
But there is hope. Forgiveness can bring life and resurrect a dead relationship. Jesus Christ set an example for us. Our sinful actions had brought a death of relationship between us and God. There were painful consequences for our actions – guilt, shame, and fear, but Jesus voluntarily took those consequences into Himself so that we could go free. He absorbed the damage our sins caused into himself and then went to His Father for healing and restoration. Three days later Jesus rose again fully alive. The cross sets a pattern for us to follow so that we can break the death cycle we humans are caught in.
When we have a wound inflicted upon us by a family member or spouse rather than seek retribution, we can follow Christ’s example and absorb the penalty into ourselves. In essence we choose to forgive by letting go of the desire to see that person suffer for what they did to us. It is not an easy thing to do. Forgiveness will hurt and be costly. But we have a place to go for healing. When we take our hurts to God he can restore us. He can heal emotional wounds and bring wholeness.
It is so hard for us time bound humans to think long term and fully grasp the end results from our actions. When we are angry and bitter our perception becomes totally whacked out and loved ones appear to become our enemies. The person we are angry with is still so precious to us and we would panic if anything were to happen to them. Yet anger distorts that reality and sweet revenge becomes more important. And so, sadly, we inject a little more poison into the relationship, and little by little the relationship slowly dies and ends in a cold courtroom.
The next time you are tempted to punish the one who hurt you, ask yourself if it is really worth it. Imagine a man pointing a gun at the person you are angry with. Do you ask him to pull the trigger or do you try to stop him? This recent tragedy has reminded me of how precious our relationships are. I have no control over the day God will call Heidi home, but every day that I have with her I will fight to protect our marriage from emotional death. My two other treasures, John-Michael and Sophia are equally precious to me, and the thought of anything happening to them is the stuff of nightmares. Once again their time belongs to God, but as long as they’re alive I want to keep injecting life into our relationship. It won’t be easy, but by God grace I will always choose forgiveness. Always choose life.